Posts Tagged ‘U.S. military’

Is a new US military base in Poland a realistic option?

September 20, 2018

US President Donald Trump has said he is “seriously considering” a Polish request that Washington build a new military base in the country. DW spoke with two security experts to determine the viability of such a plan.

US soldiers take part in the opening ceremony of the Rapid Trident-2017 international military exercises

On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump and his Polish counterpart, Andrzej Duda, raised the prospect of building a new US military base in Poland. Duda even suggested it might be named Fort Trump at the joint press conference in Washington, stressing Poland’s “very strategic location” and pointing to the need for an expanded US presence to counter Russia’s aggressive behavior. Trump voiced openness to the proposal.

Although the name got the attention of the US president and the rest of the world, the idea came as no surprise to security experts. The Polish government has spent months actively lobbying for the project in Washington.

Read more: US-Poland base plans must include NATO, says ex-Pentagon official

Poland’s former foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, for instance, told DW’s Zhanna Nemtsova: “I worked very hard to bring it about. We want in Poland the kind of allied forces that would deter Russia but not threaten Russia.”

DW News


“We want in Poland the kind of allied forces that would deter Russia, but not threaten Russia,” former Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorsko told DW as his country pushes for a permanent US military base: 

At Tuesday’s press conference, Trump said the US would “seriously consider” the proposal. But how realistic is the idea and what would be the implications? DW spoke with Heather Conley of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Jorge Benitez from the Atlantic Council to get their assessments of the situation.

Lengthy process

Conley stressed the lengthiness of the US decision-making process. “When President Trump says ‘we are seriously considering it,’ it means that Congress has asked the Defense Department to study this proposal. The Defense Department, I think, has some very important questions,” she said. “I don’t believe US defense officials are that enthusiastic about this. I don’t think there is great speed or enthusiasm for this.”

Both Conley and Benitez picked up on the bilateral nature of the proposal. “Whatever decisions are reached bilaterally would have to be in close consultation with NATO, and of course the NATO-Russia Founding Act [of 1997] would have to be part of that conversation,” said Conley. “But again this is to ensure that there is a greater deterrence and readiness capability on NATO’s eastern flank. The US bilateral arrangement with Poland, should it happen, would have to be inside that context.”

Read moreNATO views Vostok with both a shrug and a show of force

“The Polish offer would make sense as part of a multinational investment of NATO forces in Central Europe, such as the Alliance’s Enhanced Forward Presence battalions in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania,” said Benitez. “Accepting the Polish offer without doing it through NATO would mean more direct US resources for European defense without any matching investment by other NATO allies. This is counter to Trump’s priority to make NATO allies less dependent on US military assistance. Building a US base in Poland would be a step in the opposite direction. It would make the US unilaterally more responsible for security near NATO’s borders with Russia.”

Undermining European security? 

Benitez said the stationing of US troops in Poland would not, as Moscow warned in May, undermine European security. “Quite the opposite, more US troops in Central Europe will strengthen deterrence and thereby increase stability in the region,” he pointed out.

Speaking on Russian objections to the move, Benitez was quite blunt. “The Russians will respond with wild allegations and negative propaganda. But the truth is that the Russians will complain if a group of Girl Scouts visit Poland,” he said. “Moscow tries to portray everything as a threat, even though the small number of US troops likely to be moved to Poland will be no threat to the quarter of a million troops Russia has stationed near its border with NATO.”

Pulling troops out of Germany?

Asked about the threat that the US might shift troops from Germany amid growing US-German tensions, Conley said the scenario was quite unlikely. “With the world-class and premiere facilities that the US has in Germany and Italy, both the cost and the movement to Poland would not make cost effective sense. I don’t think it has anything to do with current US force posture in Germany,” she said.

Conley, however, sees another issue as a potential impediment to realizing the proposal. “The other big question is: Where would those additional forces come from? What would the global footprint be if the US would decide to move additional capabilities farther to NATO’s eastern flank? The global picture will be a very big constraint on any further US decision,” she said.


John Bolton On the International Criminal Court

September 11, 2018

John Bolton gave his first public address Monday since becoming national security adviser, and surprisingly, the topic was not Iran, North Korea, Syria, China, or any other national security hot spot, but the International Criminal Court.

The ICC is certainly not a new obsession for Bolton, who, in the speech hosted by the Federalist Society on Monday in Washington, called his role spearheading the George W. Bush administration’s opposition to the court “one of my proudest achievements” and described the court as a “freewheeling global organization claiming jurisdiction over individuals without their consent.” The impetus for the current U.S. offensive against the ICC is that its judges are currently considering whether to authorize the prosecutor to investigate alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan, including by the U.S. military and the CIA. The potential scenario of Americans being prosecuted by an international court for crimes committed abroad is exactly the scenario Bolton and other opponents warned about in the court’s early days.


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U.S. national security adviser John Bolton speaks at a Federalist Society luncheon on Monday in Washington.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Palestinian Authority has also been pushing the court to accelerate a long-running inquiry into alleged Israeli crimes in the Palestinian territories, one factor behind the decision announced Monday to order the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington. (The United States and Israel are not members of the court, but Afghanistan and, more controversially, the Palestinian Authority are, giving the ICC jurisdiction over crimes committed there.)

For background, the U.S. has long had a fraught relationship with the ICC. When delegates originally gathered in Rome in the late 1990s to negotiate the formation of the court, many of them wanted it to have universal jurisdiction to prosecute crimes against humanity across the globe, but the U.S. pushed back, wanting to protect U.S. citizens and troops. The court that was eventually established has jurisdiction over crimes committed only in its member states (or those referred to it by the U.N. Security Council). This is what makes it so difficult today for the court to try abuses in places like Syria and Myanmar, which are not members.

Bill Clinton eventually signed the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC, in 2000, but it was never ratified by the U.S. Senate, and President Bush “deactivated” the signature in 2002. That year, Congress passed the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act, prohibiting cooperation with the court. Opponents dubbed it “The Hague Invasion Act” for a clause authorizing the use of force to secure the release of U.S. citizens detained for prosecution by the court.

Although not a member of the court, the United States has at times cooperated with it. To Bolton’s vocal dismay, the Bush administration eventually softened its stance on the ICC, choosing to abstain rather than veto a referral of allegations of war crimes in Darfur, Sudan, to the court. The Obama administration expanded the level of cooperation, offering rewards for suspects wanted by the court and voting to refer the situation in Libya under Muammar Qaddafi to the court. Judging by Monday’s remarks, that level of cooperation is not going to continue under Trump.

The actual policy measures Bolton announced in the speech sound more severe than they are. He vowed that if the court comes after U.S. or Israeli citizens, “We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system, and, we will prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans.”

However, these are more or less the measures already laid out with the 2002 ASPA law. As David Bosco, a professor at Indiana University and the author of Rough Justice: The International Criminal Court in a World of Power Politics, told me, “It sounded dramatic, but it’s actually not much of a change. I thought it was interesting that he talked only about working within the bounds of existing legislation and didn’t seem to be calling on Congress to take up any additional legislation. I think what he did here was to try to take existing restrictions and frame them as dramatically as possible.”

Most of the speech was a familiar litany of Bolton’s objections to the court, again framed for maximum drama. He ominously warned the audience:

[The ICC] claims “automatic jurisdiction,” meaning that it can prosecute individuals even if their own governments have not recognized, signed, or ratified the treaty. Thus, American soldiers, politicians, civil servants, private citizens, and even all of you sitting in the room today, are purportedly subject to the court’s prosecution should a party to the Rome Statute or the Chief Prosecutor suspect you of committing a crime within a state or territory that has joined the treaty.

This is technically true. If you, a U.S. citizen, go to another country and become accused of a crime against humanity, and that country’s government decides that, rather than prosecute you itself, it will refer your case to the ICC, then yes, you could find yourself on the docket at the Hague facing judges elected by an international body rather than the U.S. government. Then again, I never got to vote for anyone in the Canadian government, but if I went and robbed a gas station in Calgary, the local authorities could prosecute me without anyone kicking up much of a fuss about national sovereignty.

One way to avoid having U.S. citizens be prosecuted by the court would be for the U.S. not to commit war crimes in other countries, or to investigate and prosecute those who do. The ICC is supposed to be the court of last resort that prosecutes the planet’s most serious crimes only when governments are unable or unwilling to. Bolton argued today that the Afghanistan investigation disproves this notion since “we know that the U.S. judicial system is more vigorous, more fair, and more effective than the ICC.” In other words, it’s simply inconceivable that the U.S. would fail to hold anyone accountable for war crimes, an argument contradicted by a number of cases in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bolton may frame his argument as a defense of sovereignty, but it often comes across as a Nixonian case for impunity: If the United States did it, it’s not a war crime.

Bolton argued that the ICC is a weak and ineffective institution that is “hardly a deterrent to dictators and despots determined to commit horrific atrocities.” He has a point. Despite his indictment for crimes in Darfur including genocide, Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir remains at largeand able to travel the world. Thanks to the fact that Syria and Iraq are not ICC members—coupled with inaction by the U.N. Security Council—ISIS and Bashar al-Assad are shielded from prosecution for their horrific crimes against humanity. As Bolton noted, “Since its 2002 inception, the court has spent over $1.5 billion while attaining only eight convictions.”

Read the rest:

The Pentagon is investing $2 billion in artificial intelligence

September 11, 2018

If North Korea’s dear leader wakes up tomorrow, takes a crazy pill and decides to lob a nuclear missile at the US mainland, there’s a good chance the military will be relying on artificial intelligence to protect us.

Reuters reported earlier this summer on the existence of a secretive military effort — actually, of multiple classified programs in various stages that are all focused on the development of AI-reliant systems to help us anticipate the launch of a missile, as well as to track launchers. In North Korea and, of course, beyond.

Fears about runaway AI notwithstanding, the Pentagon is now apparently taking that kind of an effort and planning to crank it up to 11. The Pentagon’s research agency DARPA announced Monday it will be spending $2 billion on AI, the focus of which, according to CNN, will include “creating systems with common sense, contextual awareness and better energy efficiency. Advances could help the government automate security clearances, accredit software systems and make AI systems that explain themselves.”

John Everett, deputy director of DARPA’s Information Innovation Office, told CNN the agency’s new investment may ultimately get even bigger than that $2 billion. The way he put it: The agency thinks it can accelerate two decades of progress into five years.

In many respects, it’s an investment that comes not a moment too soon. Other nations are likewise making no secret about stepping up their investments in AI and probably our strongest rival in this area, China, has said it wants to be the global leader in a few years.

During his appearance this week on Joe Rogan’s podcast, noted AI-phobe Elon Musk said he thinks one reason China is poised to potentially take the lead is because of how its politicians generally have a scientific bent. “They’re pretty good at science in China,” he said on the show. “The mayor of Beijing has, I believe, an environmental engineering degree and the deputy mayor has a physics degree. I met them.”

Reuters‘ reporting in June uncovered that the Trump administration was proposing a tripling of funding in next year’s budget to $83 million for one of those AI-based missile efforts, a funding increase that had not been previously made public.

It’s a comparatively small amount when stacked up against adversaries like Russia and North Korea. But it shows how the US military is getting more serious about relying on AI, whether it’s for missile systems or tools that have yet to be developed.


U.S. Says Syria Plans Gas Attack in Rebel Stronghold

September 10, 2018

Chlorine assault would target Idlib in what could be a decisive battle in seven-year war, raising prospects for new retaliatory strike as thousands flee

Syrians fleeing attacks approach a camp in Kafr Lusin near the Turkish border in the northern part of rebel-held Idlib province on Sept. 9.
Syrians fleeing attacks approach a camp in Kafr Lusin near the Turkish border in the northern part of rebel-held Idlib province on Sept. 9.PHOTO: AAREF WATAD/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

WASHINGTON—President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has approved the use of chlorine gas in an offensive against the country’s last major rebel stronghold, U.S. officials said, raising the prospects for another retaliatory U.S. military strike as thousands try to escape what could be a decisive battle in the seven-year-old war.

In a recent discussion about Syria, people familiar with the exchange said, President Trump threatened to conduct a massive attack against Mr. Assad if he carries out a massacre in Idlib, the northwestern province that has become the last refuge for more than three million people and as many as 70,000 opposition fighters that the regime considers to be terrorists.

International efforts to avert an offensive have failed to dissuade Syria, Russia and Iran as they try to deliver a crippling blow to rebels who appear to be on the verge of defeat after trying for seven years to force Mr. Assad from power. Russia and Syria have stepped up their airstrikes, while thousands of civilians have been evacuated to government-controlled parts of Syria. Mr. Assad has rebuffed appeals from the United Nations, Turkey, the U.S. and others who have warned that an attack could trigger a new humanitarian crisis.

A man inspects the wreckage after Syrian government airstrikes targeted the civilian hospital in the town of Hass in Idlib province on Sept. 8.
A man inspects the wreckage after Syrian government airstrikes targeted the civilian hospital in the town of Hass in Idlib province on Sept. 8. PHOTO: ANAS ALKHARBOUTLI/DPA/ZUMA PRESS

“Syria is once again at the edge of an abyss,” Francois Delattre, the French ambassador to the United Nations, said last week during a U.N. Security Council meeting on Idlib.

The Pentagon is crafting military options, but Mr. Trump hasn’t decided what exactly would trigger a military response or whether the U.S. would target Russian or Iranian military forces aiding Mr. Assad in Syria, U.S. officials said.

The U.S. could also use things like targeted economic sanctions against Syrian officials instead of military strikes.

“We haven’t said that the U.S. would use the military in response to an offensive,” one senior administration official said. “We have political tools at our disposal, we have economic tools at our disposal. There are a number of different ways we could respond if Assad were to take that reckless, dangerous step.”

Fears of a massacre have been fueled by new U.S. intelligence indicating Mr. Assad has cleared the way for the military to use chlorine gas in any offensive, U.S. officials said. It wasn’t clear from the latest intelligence if Mr. Assad also had given the military permission to use sarin gas, the deadly nerve agent used several times in previous regime attacks on rebel-held areas. It is banned under international law.

U.S. officials wouldn’t say on Sunday whether use of chlorine gas would trigger new U.S. airstrikes against the Assad regime.

“I will not comment on U.S. military plans, but Assad’s use of chemical weapons, sarin and chlorine, and disregard for civilian lives is well documented and contrary to regional stability,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said.

Two US Air Force F-22 Raptors fly above Syria in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in February.
Two US Air Force F-22 Raptors fly above Syria in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in February. PHOTO: COLTON ELLIOTT/U.S. AIR FORCE/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

Mr. Trump launched airstrikes against Mr. Assad twice in the past two years after accusing the Syrian leader of using sarin gas in attacks that killed scores of civilians, including women and children.

This time, the Trump administration initially set a new red line by warning Mr. Assad that the U.S. would respond if he used chemical weapons. But the administration stance has hardened in recent days, as Mr. Trump has publicly warned Mr. Assad that he risks another U.S. military strike if he tries to retake Idlib.

“By my putting out that message I think maybe it’s going to send a signal,” Mr. Trump said last week in an interview with The Daily Caller, the conservative news website. “I mean we’re going to see, but it’s a terrible thing.”

U.S. officials have been trying for weeks to stave off the offensive. National security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked their Russian counterparts to ensure that no chemical weapons were used in Idlib, U.S. officials said.

On Sunday, there appeared to be few signs that the U.S. threats were having a major impact. Russian and Syrian airstrikes in parts of Idlib and Hama provinces killed nearly two dozen civilians.

Regime helicopters dropped at least 55 barrel bombs—highly destructive oil drums filled with explosives—while Russian warplanes carried out other airstrikes, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, prompting thousands in Hama and southern Idlib province to flee their homes.

Since Friday, regime and Russian attacks have struck three hospitals, two first responder centers and one ambulance system, leaving thousands with no access to medical care, according to the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations, a France-based charity that supports health care in opposition-held parts of Syria.

Russia and Iran, which provide Mr. Assad with the military firepower he has used to recapture most rebel-held parts of Syria, rejected an appeal last week by Turkey, which has forces operating in the Syrian province along its border, to avert an attack on the rebel haven.

Russia has also rebuffed U.S. warnings and suggested that opposition fighters in Syria might use chemical weapons on civilians in an effort to trigger a U.S. military response. U.S. officials said there is no evidence that Syrian rebels have the ability to carry out such attacks.

Mr. Trump’s first military strike on the Assad regime came in April 2017, when the U.S. military fired nearly 60 cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield in Idlib Province used as the launchpad for a sarin attack that killed at least 83 people.

Mr. Trump ultimately approved a one-time strike on the Syrian airfield, which failed to deter Mr. Assad from using chemical weapons again.

At the time, Mr. Trump said he was moved to act by graphic footage and photographs of young Syrian boys and girls choking for breath. Mr. Trump called Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to express his disgust and call for an American response.

“Let’s f—king kill him!” Mr. Trump told Mr. Mattis, according to Bob Woodward’s new book, “Fear,” which comes out this week. “Let’s kill the f—king lot of them.”

Mr. Mattis said he would develop options for the president, but then dismissed Mr. Trump’s approach when he got off the call, according to the book.

“We’re not going to do any of that,” Mr. Mattis told an aide, according to the book. “We’re going to be much more measured.”

Messrs. Trump and Mattis have both characterized the book as fiction.

The second Western response came five months ago, when the U.S., France and the U.K. fired more than 100 missiles at three Syrian targets in an effort to cripple Mr. Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons after he was accused of again using sarin in a deadly attack on a Damascus suburb. The Assad regime denied using sarin.

During the debate this year over how to respond to the second attack, Mr. Trump’s national-security team weighed the idea of hitting Russian or Iranian targets in Syria, people familiar with the discussions said. But the Pentagon pushed for a more measured response, U.S. officials said, and the idea was eventually rejected as too risky.

A third U.S. strike likely would be more expansive than the first two, and Mr. Trump would again have to consider whether or not to hit targets like Russian air defenses in an effort to deliver a more punishing blow to Mr. Assad’s military.

Write to Dion Nissenbaum at

Appeared in the September 10, 2018, print edition as ‘Assad Is Planning Chlorine Attack, U.S. Says.’

Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has approved the use of chlorine gas in Idlib Offensive — Reports

September 10, 2018

At this point there’s not even so much as feigning surprise or suspense in the now sadly all-too-familiar Syria script out of Washington.

The Wall Street Journal has just published a bombshell on Sunday evening as Russian and Syrian warplanes continue bombing raids over al-Qaeda held Idlib, citing unnamed US officials who claim President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has approved the use of chlorine gas in an offensive against the country’s last major rebel stronghold.”

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Syria children exposed to chemical weapons in the past

And perhaps more alarming is that the report details that Trump is undecided over whether new retaliatory strikes could entail expanding the attack to hit Assad allies Russia and Iran this time around.

That’s right, unnamed US officials are now claiming to be in possession of intelligence which they say shows Assad has already given the order in an absolutely unprecedented level of “pre-crime” telegraphing of events on the battlefield.

And supposedly these officials have even identified the type of chemical weapon to be used: chlorine gas.

The anonymous officials told the WSJ of “new U.S. intelligence” in what appears an eerily familiar repeat of precisely how the 2003 invasion of Iraq was sold to the American public(namely, “anonymous officials” and vague assurances of unseen intelligence)  albeit posturing over Idlib is now unfolding at an intensely more rapid pace:

Fears of a massacre have been fueled by new U.S. intelligence indicating Mr. Assad has cleared the way for the military to use chlorine gas in any offensive, U.S. officials said. It wasn’t clear from the latest intelligence if Mr. Assad also had given the military permission to use sarin gas, the deadly nerve agent used several times in previous regime attacks on rebel-held areas. It is banned under international law.

It appears Washington is now saying an American attack on Syrian government forces and locations is all but inevitable.

And according to the report, President Trump may actually give the order to attack even if there’s no claim of a chemical attack, per the WSJ:

In a recent discussion about Syria, people familiar with the exchange said, President Trump threatened to conduct a massive attack against Mr. Assad if he carries out a massacre in Idlib, the northwestern province that has become the last refuge for more than three million people and as many as 70,000 opposition fighters that the regime considers to be terrorists.

And further:

The Pentagon is crafting military options, but Mr. Trump hasn’t decided what exactly would trigger a military response or whether the U.S. would target Russian or Iranian military forces aiding Mr. Assad in Syria, U.S. officials said.

Crucially, this is the first such indication of the possibility that White House and defense officials are mulling over hitting “Russian or Iranian military forces” in what would be a monumental escalation that would take the world to the brink of World War 3.

Read the rest:

U.S. military drawing up options should Syria use chemical weapons

September 8, 2018

The presidents of Turkey, Iran and Russia on Friday failed to agree on a ceasefire that would forestall an offensive on Idlib.

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Presidents Hassan Rouhani of Iran, Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Vladimir Putin of Russia pose before their meeting in Ankara, Turkey April 4, 2018. Tolga Bozoglu/Reuters

America’s top general on Saturday said he was involved in “routine dialogue” with the White House about military options should Syria ignore U.S. warnings against using chemical weapons in an expected assault on the enclave of Idlib.

Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said no decision had been made by the United States to employ military force in response to a future chemical attack in Syria.

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General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

“But we are in a dialogue, a routine dialogue, with the president to make sure he knows where we are with regard to planning in the event that chemical weapons are used,” he told a small group of reporters during a trip to India. Dunford later added: “He expects us to have military options and we have provided updates to him on the development of those military options.”

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has massed his army and allied forces on the front lines in the northwest, and Russian planes have joined his bombardment of rebels there, in a prelude to a widely expected assault despite objections from Turkey.

This week, a top U.S. envoy said there was “lots of evidence” that chemical weapons were being prepared by Syrian government forces in Idlib.

The White House has warned that the United States and its allies would respond “swiftly and vigorously” if government forces used chemical weapons in Idlib. President Donald Trump has twice bombed Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons, in April 2017 and April 2018.

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File Photo: Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Russian President Vladimir Putin and and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Credit: Mikhail Klimentyev, Kremlin

Dunford did not say, one way or the other, what he expected Trump to do should Syria use chemical weapons again.

France’s top military official also said last week his forces were prepared to carry out strikes on Syrian targets if chemical weapons were used in Idlib.

Dunford declined to comment on U.S. intelligence about the possible Syrian preparations of chemical agents.

“I wouldn’t comment on intelligence at all, in terms of what we have, what we don’t have,” he said.


Idlib is the insurgents’ only remaining major stronghold and a government offensive could be the last decisive battle in a war that has killed more than half a million people and forced 11 million to flee their homes.

The presidents of Turkey, Iran and Russia on Friday failed to agree on a ceasefire that would forestall an offensive.

Asked whether there was still a chance the assault on Idlib could be averted, Dunford said: “I don’t know if there’s anything that can stop it.”

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Chemical weapons have been used in the past in Syria

“It’s certainly disappointing but perhaps not (surprising) that the Russians, the Turks and the Iranians weren’t able to come up with a solution yesterday,” he said.

Tehran and Moscow have helped Assad turn the course of the war against an array of opponents ranging from Western-backed rebels to the Islamist militants, while Turkey is a leading opposition supporter and has troops in the country.

Turkey says it fears a massacre and it can not accommodate any more refugees flooding over its border.

But Russia’s Vladimir Putin said on Friday a ceasefire would be pointless as it would not involve Islamist militant groups it deems terrorists.

Dunford has warned about the potential for a humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib and instead has recommended more narrowly tailored operations against militants there. “There’s a more effective way to do counterterrorism operations than major conventional operations in Idlib,” he said.

Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Robert Birsel


See also:

Presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran Meet to Plot Future of Syria Ahead of Battle for Last Rebel Stronghold


Trump Talks About U.S. Army Building Border Wall

September 8, 2018

President Donald Trump said Friday that he’s considering using military resources to finish construction of his long-promised border wall instead of relying on Congress to fund the project through the Homeland Security Department’s budget.

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He also wouldn’t eliminate the possibility of a government shutdown if Democrats continue to confound his efforts to appropriate money for the project on the U.S.-Mexico border.

‘We have two options,’ he told aboard Air Force One as he flew from Billings, Montana to Fargo, North Dakota. ‘We have military, we have homeland security.’

He was asked specifically about using the Army Corps of Engineers as a taxpayer-funded construction crew.

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US military to cut $300 million in aid to Pakistan

September 2, 2018

The U.S. military said it has made a final decision to cancel $300 million in aid to Pakistan that had been suspended over Islamabad’s perceived failure to take decisive action against militants, in a new blow to deteriorating ties.

The so-called Coalition Support Funds were part of a broader suspension in aid to Pakistan announced by President Donald Trump at the start of the year, when he accused Pakistan of rewarding past assistance with “nothing but lies & deceit.”

© Arif Ali, AFP | Pakistani activists with the Jamaat-ud-Dawa group protest in Lahore on January 2, 2018 against Trump’s threat to cut aid over “lies” about militancy


The Trump administration says Islamabad is granting safe haven to insurgents who are waging a 17-year-old war in neighboring Afghanistan, a charge Pakistan denies.

But U.S. officials had held out the possibility that Pakistan could win back that support if it changed its behavior.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, in particular, had an opportunity to authorize $300 million in CSF funds through this summer – if he saw concrete Pakistani actions to go after insurgents. Mattis chose not to, a U.S. official told Reuters.

“Due to a lack of Pakistani decisive actions in support of the South Asia Strategy the remaining $300 (million) was reprogrammed,” Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Kone Faulkner said.

Faulkner said the Pentagon aimed to spend the $300 million on “other urgent priorities” if approved by Congress. He said another $500 million in CSF was stripped by Congress from Pakistan earlier this year, to bring the total withheld to $800 million.

The disclosure came ahead of an expected visit by U.S.  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the top U.S. military officer, General Joseph Dunford, to Islamabad. Mattis told reporters on Tuesday that combating militants would be a “primary part of the discussion.”

Experts on the Afghan conflict, America’s longest war, argue that militant safe havens in Pakistan have allowed Taliban-linked insurgents in Afghanistan a place to plot deadly strikes and regroup after ground offensives.

Increasing pressure

The Pentagon’s decision showed that the United States, which has sought to change Pakistani behavior, is still  increasing pressure on Pakistan’s security apparatus.

It also underscored that Islamabad has yet to deliver the kind of change sought by Washington.

“It is a calibrated, incremental ratcheting up of pressure on Pakistan,” said Sameer Lalwani, co-director of the South Asia program at the Stimson Center think tank in Washington.

Reuters reported in August that the Trump administration has quietly started cutting scores of Pakistani officers from coveted training and educational programs that have been a hallmark of bilateral military relations for more than a decade.

The Pentagon made similar determinations on CSF in the past but this year’s move could get more attention from Islamabad, and its new prime minister, Imran Khan, at a time when its economy is struggling.

Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves have plummeted over the past year and it will soon decide on whether to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or friendly nations such as China.

“They are squeezing them when they know that they’re vulnerable and it is probably a signal about what to expect should Pakistan come to the IMF for a loan,” Lalwani said. The United States has the largest share of votes at the IMF.

Khan, who once suggested he might order the shooting down of U.S. drones if they entered Pakistani airspace, has opposed the United States’ open-ended presence in Afghanistan. In his victory speech, he said he wanted “mutually beneficial” relations with Washington.

A Pakistani official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he was unaware of a formal notification of the U.S. decision on assistance but said one was expected by the end of September.

Pakistan has received more than $33 billion in U.S.  assistance since 2002, including more than $14 billion in CSF, a U.S. Defense Department program to reimburse allies that have incurred costs in supporting counter-insurgency operations.

Pakistan could again be eligible next year for CSF.



US military to cancel $300m in Pakistan aid over terror groups

September 2, 2018

The US military says it is cancelling $300m (£230m) in aid to Pakistan over what it calls Islamabad’s failure to take action against militant groups.

President Donald Trump has previously accused Pakistan of deceiving the US while receiving billions of dollars.

Pentagon spokesman Lt Col Koné Faulkner said the US military would aim to spend the money on other “urgent priorities”.

The move, which needs to be approved by US Congress, is part of a broader suspension announced in January.

BBC News

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The US state department has criticised Pakistan, a key ally, for failing to deal with terrorist networks operating on its soil, including the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban.

“We continue to press Pakistan to indiscriminately target all terrorist groups,” Col Faulkner said in a statement on Saturday, adding that the $300m aid – which had earlier been suspended – should be used elsewhere due to “a lack of Pakistani decisive actions” in tackling the issue.

The announcement comes just days before US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to visit Pakistan to meet the country’s new prime minister, Imran Khan.

In January, the US government announced it was cutting almost all security aid to the country.

The US and others have long complained that Pakistan provides a safe haven to militant networks, allowing them to carry out cross-border attacks in Afghanistan – something that Islamabad denies.

Separately on Friday, the US said it was ending all funding for the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa) – which it described as “irredeemably flawed”.

Who are the militants Pakistan is alleged to support?

The Haqqani network is a militant group that focuses most of its activities on neighbouring Afghanistan, which has complained for years that Pakistan allows it to operate unimpeded from its soil across the border.

The group is linked to the Afghan Taliban – a hardline Islamic movement that poses a major threat to the Afghan government. Pakistani Taliban groups, while associated with the Afghan Taliban, focus on attacks within Pakistan.

Both the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban have launched attacks in Afghanistan that have killed US forces, and US officials have long argued that Pakistan, and specifically its ISI intelligence service, provides safe havens to them.

Why would Pakistan support them?

Pakistan has long been accused of using the Afghan Taliban to further its foreign policy interests in the country. The ISI first became involved in funding and training militants in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in 1979.

Pakistani paramilitary soldiers take positions near to the supporters of religous group "Tehrik Labayk Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA)" during a protest in Islamabad, Pakistan, 26 November 2017.
Pakistan and the US are key allies – but ties have frayed in recent months

Although since 2001 Pakistan has allowed its territory to be used to supply international troops during the war in Afghanistan, and co-operated with the West in fighting some terrorists groups like al-Qaeda, analysts say it has continued to give shelter and support to Afghan insurgents.

Its aim has been to limit the influence in Afghanistan of its chief regional rival, India.

U.S. Military Believes Trump’s Afghan War Plan Is Working, but Spy Agencies Are Pessimistic

August 31, 2018

U.S. intelligence officials have a gloomy view of the stalled conflict while military leaders support the year-old South Asia strategy

U.S. troops on patrol at an Afghan National Army base on Aug. 7, 2018.
U.S. troops on patrol at an Afghan National Army base on Aug. 7, 2018. PHOTO: OMAR SOBHANI/REUTERS

WASHINGTON—U.S. military and intelligence officials are at odds over the direction of the war in Afghanistan, creating a new source of friction as President Trump and his national security team seek a way to end the 17-year-old conflict, American officials said.

Intelligence officials have a pessimistic view of the conflict, according to people familiar with a continuing classified assessment, while military commanders are challenging that conclusion by arguing that Mr. Trump’s South Asia strategy is working.

The divisions come as the Trump administration is sending a new U.S. general to Kabul—the ninth in 11 years—to oversee international forces carrying out a year-old strategy that has yet to produce much measurable progress in Afghanistan.

Some officials overseeing the war are concerned that a negative intelligence assessment could prompt Mr. Trump to shift course and abandon a strategy he reluctantly embraced last year that sent thousands of additional American troops to Afghanistan.

At the heart of the debate is the evolving assessment of the war in Afghanistan by America’s 17 intelligence agencies, including the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency.

People familiar with the debate over the classified National Intelligence Estimate of Afghanistan said there is broad consensus that the trajectory of the 17-year-old war hasn’t significantly shifted over the year that Mr. Trump’s strategy has been in effect.

While the official military view of Afghanistan is “cautiously optimistic,” some of these people said the intelligence view is “cautiously pessimistic.” That has led to intensive discussions about how to frame the next assessment of the war in Afghanistan that will be presented to Mr. Trump in the coming months, they said.

Mr. Trump has expressed frustration with the cost of the war, and has pressed for ways to get U.S. forces out of Afghanistan quickly, according to people involved in the debate over the past year. That has led some people working on the issue to worry that they live with what they call a “tweet of Damocles”—held by Mr. Trump—hanging over their heads.

A spokesman for the White House National Security Council said there were signs “we are heading in the right direction with the South Asia strategy,” which sent several thousand more U.S. forces to Afghanistan with a pledge to stay in the country as long as necessary.

“Nobody in the administration was under any illusion that the South Asia strategy would end a 17-year insurgency in just one year,” the spokesman said. “That is why we did not attach timelines to the strategy.”

Since the strategy took effect, he said, the U.S. has eroded havens for the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan. Afghan security forces have shown their ability to “swiftly respond to attacks,” as the Afghan government has taken “bold steps” to launch peace talks with the Taliban, he said.

Nonetheless, some U.S. officials believe fighting is still at a stalemate. The infusion of new American troops—increased from 8,000 to about 14,000—may have blunted Taliban momentum in some areas, but it has not decisively turned the tide in favor of the U.S. and Afghanistan, people familiar with the ongoing analysis said.

To judge the state of Afghanistan, the U.S. officials evaluate how much land is controlled by the Taliban, how many Afghan soldiers have been killed, how easily insurgents can carry out attacks, and how much faith Afghans have in their government.

U.S. troops at their base in Logar province, Afghanistan, in early August. American intelligence officials have a pessimistic view of the conflict, while military leaders think President Trump’s year-old South Asia strategy is working.
U.S. troops at their base in Logar province, Afghanistan, in early August. American intelligence officials have a pessimistic view of the conflict, while military leaders think President Trump’s year-old South Asia strategy is working. PHOTO: OMAR SOBHANI/REUTERS

On almost every front, the U.S. government’s own reports show, American and Afghan efforts are falling short of aspirations.

The Afghan government has control over about 65 percent of the population, with the rest either under the control of the Taliban, other insurgents, or contested, according to a Pentagon report issued in June. That is slightly less area than the government controlled in 2016—and virtually unchanged from when Mr. Trump announced the new strategy.

The report also said that high profile attacks continue to create the “perception of widespread insecurity,” undermining the legitimacy of the Afghan government, but noted that such attacks were on par with the year before.

An escalation in U.S. airstrikes has failed to seriously disrupt the Taliban’s financial lifelines. And Mr. Trump’s decision to increase the number of American troops hasn’t fundamentally altered battlefield dynamics, according to current and former U.S. officials. In July, airstrikes by the U.S.-led military coalition were the highest in nearly eight years, according to U.S. Air Forces Central Command.

“The hard numbers haven’t gotten any better,” said one U.S. official.

U.S. military and intelligence analysts are also growing increasingly concerned about Afghanistan’s internal political dynamics. Partisan, regional and ethnic divisions are creating fissures as the country prepares for a presidential election next year.

That cumulative evidence is fueling the pessimistic views in the intelligence community, people familiar with the matter said.

Military officials have argued that more intangible benchmarks, such as the successful cease-fire in June that fueled optimism, should also be considered in evaluating the war.

Air WarAirstrikes by the U.S.-led military coalition inAfghanistan are on pace to reach record highsthis year as the U.S. military and its allies stepup their campaign against the Taliban.Weapons released by aircraft under alliedcontrol*Source: United States Air Forces Central Command*Includes numbers of sorties (not strikes) andmunitions expended by manned and remotely-piloted aircraft
January through JuneJuly through December2010’12’14’16’1802,0004,0006,000

The June cease-fire was a sign that the Taliban leadership was serious about peace talks, military officials said. And U.S. officials have met with Taliban political leaders at least three times since Mr. Trump took office, according to people familiar with the meetings, but the talks are still characterized as preliminary.

On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the three-day cease-fire in June showed “there’s a lot more to this than purely traditional ‘who-shot-who today.’”

He said developments such as expanding opposition by Islamic clerics around the world to the Taliban cause, had to be taken into account as well. “It may be non-quantifiable,” he said. “But it’s very real when you start removing these aspects of the war as well. So you have to look at it in its totality.”

That view was echoed last month by Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, on a trip to Afghanistan. “Our assessment has to account for both an objective and subjective evaluation of the situation,” he said then. “If you only focus on the objective aspects—you will miss something.”

The summer’s optimism has given way to grim realities in Afghanistan. The Taliban this month rebuffed efforts by the Afghan and U.S. governments to secure another cease-fire.

For now, Mr. Mattis said the president’s approach is working. “We think there are positive reasons to stick with the strategy, and we are going to drive this to a negotiated settlement,” he said.

Write to Dion Nissenbaum at and Gordon Lubold at